• Posts from Biloxi: Day 2: Monday, June 18, 2007

    Sunday, June 24, 2007
    News Type

Hope Is Not a Plan

Biloxi, Miss. – "Hope is not a plan." This was written on many buildings in When the Levees Broke,  the Spike Lee documentary about Hurricane Katrina that we all watched last night. I think this applies to so many actions of the U.S. government right now. I'm ashamed of our president and administration: We should have jumped to respond, and not worry about cost, because THIS is what our national deficit should be from. 

Children at "English camp" in Biloxi. Photo: Vicki Allen '06.


Ana, a Spanish professor at Dartmouth, told us a story during our group reflection time this evening. Today, she said, she tutored a boy named Jerry (age eight, maybe?) for a short time as she was helping with clean-up at the Hands On site. Jerry is at "English camp" at the Catholic church across the street, where I also worked (but with younger children) today. Partway through the tutoring, Ana said, Jerry switched from English to Spanish. Instead of saying, "No, speak English," as we had been told was a rule to enforce usually, Ana listened. Jerry told her about how his dad was saved, and what was on his mind—a state of emotional and mental depth that he probably couldn't express in English. I hope someone can continue to be here for these children in all these different ways. And listening to them, too.

Biloxi, Miss. – Dinner at Hands On–Gulf Coast is prepared and served by volunteers at 6:30 pm.Then there's an informal meeting in which new arrivals are introduced, departing volunteers say their goodbyes, work crews give reports on the day's accomplishments, the floor is opened for announcements, and finally it's time to volunteer for chores around the facility!

My first impression of the facility was that chores had been met with ambivalence, and having expected to rough it, I wasn't shocked by this. Nevertheless when our Dartmouth team responded to chore call by stepping up and volunteering for just about every open slot we could get, I happily raised my hand for morning chores. It makes sense to be conscientious about the state of our own immediate space as we go out into the community to do our part there. That said, I will be making a serious effort to avoid the morning clean-up chores in the future.

After a hard's day work and maybe a late evening at the Pub, a bunk does just fine for a tired volunteer. Photo: Vicki Allen '06.

My favorite part of the day is after dinner, when the sign-up sheet is posted listing all the open worksites, and the number of volunteers needed at each site, for the next day. The work is varied and differs day to day based on need and the availability of team leaders. Last night, I signed up for gardening, and this  morning I discovered that the list had been amended to include a worksite out at Gulf Island National Seashore, which I promptly switched to. After breakfast I hastily chipped in on the morning chores, and then rushed out to meet my crew for the day. 

At the seashore, we split into two groups: one went out to the island to clean up debris and the other remained at the park's mainland, pruning back brush/prickers/vines etc. that were overgrown on the trails. I hope to make it out to the island before the end of the week, but I thoroughly enjoyed working in a small group using various power tools to cut back the greenery. I also got to talk with the park ranger who  directed our efforts. Like the vast majority of Biloxi citizens we've encountered thus far, he was more than happy to give me a full account of Katrina's initial and lasting effects on the park. I learned that the torrential flooding and winds didn't significantly reduce the rabbit or alligator population, but raccoons, unfortunately, have not fared nearly so well.

And I saw a couple alligators. Very cool.

Tomorrow is the last day to volunteer for mold removal, which has been a major ongoing project of Hands On, so that's where I've decided to sign my name tonight.